Once-Eroski: 161. Joseba Beloki, 162. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, 163. Jose Azevedo, 164. Rafael Diaz Justo (Spa), 165 Jan Hruska (Cze), 166 Jörg Jaksche (Ger), 167 Mikel Pradera Rodriguez (Spa), 168 Marcos Serrano Rodriguez (Spa), 169 Mikel Zarrabeitia Uranga (Spa).
The 5th ranked team in the world with 5.083pts have strength in depth, no less than four riders occupy places in the UCI top 100: Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (19th - 965 pts), Joseba Beloki,(24th 891 points), Mikel Zarrabeitia Uranga (31st 738pts) and Jose Azevedo (67th 571 pts). The only team to challenge Armstrong and US Postal in the Tour de France, Beloki’s second place and the team overall prize would, to many teams, been classed as a success. However such is the ambition of Manolo Saiz that failure for one of his riders to win the Vuelta would be a severe blow.
Talking to the Spanish Press today, Manolo Sáiz said he was pleased with the team's preparation for the Vuelta and his only regret is that injury to Olano has deprived him of a farewell race. Certainly Saiz realises the team time trial on the first day could put his team under extra pressure and that the Vuelta is "very hard, the mountain stages come early in the race and I am certain that after the first week we will not know who will be the winner in the Bernabéu."
Saiz considers the favourites to be Casero, Sevilla, Beloki, Galdeano, Robert Heras and Simoni - ONCE have an excellent website at http://www.once.es/ciclista/
Joseba Beloki goes into this race with the knowledge that he has had maybe too many podiums and not enough victories. "This is a race I want to win - that much is clear. I want to win the Vuelta, I have grown a little tired of podium places in the Tour de France." When asked by the Spainish website As.com who Beloki considered his rivals, he naturally came up with the usual suspects, "The riders who did not participate in the Tour like Casero, Di Luca and Simoni will come highly motivated and fresh. Also Heras spent the Tour helping Armstrong, which is maybe not so demanding psychologically as being team leader - these are the main rivals...but I hope to win."
Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano will be Beloki’s right hand man, (although ironically he is the ONCE’s highest placed rider in the UCI listings and is certainly more likely than his Captain to take advantage of the time trials). Certainly should Beloki fail, Galdeano (twice fifth in the Tour de France) is more than capable of taking over the captain's role, however this advantage could be a double edged sword - and in the wrong circumstances a conflict of interests could occur. A website in need of updating - but with good pictures and basic facts - http://www.gonzalezdegaldeano.com/
Jose Azevedo, has had a long and successful career and is one of the best cyclists ever to come from Portugal. Turning pro in 1994 with the Recer team, the man from Vela do Conde has notched 24 victories and is not only a more than useful climber but can time trial as well. Brave and loyal (he seemed at times the only person prepared to attack Armstrong in this year's Tour - and if he failed at least he tried), Azevedo will not only be a tower of strength to the team but will also probably get a top ten finish as well.
Jörg Jaksche, highest German placed finisher in this year's Tour de France (31st) is a very popular rider on the continent both with fans and the press. Committed, intelligent and determined, he will give 100% in his captain's quest for glory. Jorg has an excellent website with a very good English version at http://www.joergjaksche.com/
Rafael Diaz Justo has been a real backbone to the ONCE team and has been a stalwart domestique since turning professional with the team way back in 1994. Only two victories in that time - 1996: 1 stage Tour de l'Avenir: Loudeac, and 1998: 1 stage Ronde van Gallicië: Ourense - but Diaz is concerned for racing for his team than himself. One of the best domestiques in the peloton and an assest to the team.
Jan Hruska superb time trialist who has twice won his countries national championship in that discipline. In 2000 he not only won the prologue of the Giro and wore the pink jersey but also won stage twenty. Certainly a very useful rider to have on your side either in a team time trial or on the open plains when the wind starts blowing.
Mikel Pradera Rodriguez one of the best young riders of 1999 - his best result this season so far was 2nd place in the time trial of the Setmana Catalana de Ciclisme. A strong rider (he finished 23rd in Liege 2001), he will hold his own in the time trials and be a mighty engine on the flats.
Marcos Serrano Rodriguez another powerhouse rider - at home in both tour and stage races - he won the Vuelta a Castilla e Leon in 2001 and was 12th in this years Liege Bastogne Liege. Expect to see he and Pradera hold the race together for the ONCE when the echelons form.
Mikel Zarrabeitia Uranga late replacement for Igor Aranzabal and his presence will add another dimension to the ONCE’s attack. Winner of the Euskal Bizikleta - Bicicleta Vasca this year, he is an all-purpose rider who can do all things well and is as brave as a lion. He also won the one day race Clasica de Ordizia after falling early on and riding with an injured wrist. Might just be the man who can tip the balance in the ONCE favour.
So a team of all talents. Undoubtedly the strongest time trial team in the world - but will the boys in yellow be able to transfer that group success to individual glory?